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Shed hunt season opener draws hundreds of Cowboy State residents

Natalie Behring

The sun had yet to rise and over a hundred cars, trucks and trailers sat idling in the county fairgrounds parking lot and down the neighboring street. Hunters were drinking coffee, reaching for their toes to limber up and some — saddling horses.

Then, 20 minutes before the 6 a.m. start of Wyoming’s annual shed hunt, flashing police lights led the motorcade out of town toward the elk refuge.

Natalie Behring

Brady Rivenes and his five shed-hunting passengers were 23rd in line. As he drove, his black truck’s headlights shined on herds of elk. The 24-year-old from Gillette says the rush — or the chaos as he put it — is hard to explain.

“Especially since it’s over something stupid like elk horns,” Rivenes said.

But this is his fifth year driving the six and a half hours from Gillette for the shed hunt, and he knew where he was heading.

He quickly hung a right leaving the motorcade, peeled down a gravel road, veered over the edge of it and lurched into park beneath looming canyon walls just outside of the refuge boundaries.

The group leaped out of the truck, swung packs over their shoulders and broke into a sprint alongside other hunters — like the start of an Easter egg hunt for grown men clad in camo.

“It’s exhausting — this is the definition of type two fun,” Rivenes said.

Dante Filpula Ankne

Shed antler hunting season in the state opened on May 1 and the annual shed hunt in Jackson usually draws hundreds of vehicles from around the country. They come to search for antlers, which elk shed around this time every year.

But, this year, only Wyoming residents can participate for the first week — because of a new state law. The legislation was largely spurred by calls from Wyoming shed hunters who felt they’d been pushed out by swarms of out-of-state hunters in recent years as the sport has grown in popularity. While competition was still fierce, there were fewer people this year.

Wyoming Game & Fish’s Brad Hovinga said the legislation cut the number of registrations in the Jackson area in half, from around 300 to about 120.

“And quite honestly it was about as low-key as an antler collection opener than we’ve seen in years,” Hovinga said.

That’s because, in years past, Game and Fish has found hunters trying to get an advantage by sneaking out early, which is illegal. But this year, Hovinga said, law enforcement didn’t cite anyone for jumping the gun. He added that they checked licenses sporadically and didn’t find anyone violating the new law.

The law has been largely celebrated amongst Wyoming shed hunters, but he said the department has heard from many non-residents who felt the law — making them wait — is unfair because the large majority of antlers, at least in Jackson, will already be collected.

“Non-residents that show may have to hunt quite a bit harder than they have experienced in the past when they were allowed to start on the first of May,” Hovinga said.

Jase Romrell from Star Valley was out on opening day. He said he’s a fan of the law.

“It’s more special this year because we can actually benefit from being Wyoming residents,” Romrell said. “It makes me feel proud to come and pick up the antlers that you watch all winter and see on the refuge.”

Sitting atop his horse with multiple antlers slung to its side, he said this year is also special since his sons are joining him for the first time.

Dante Filpula Ankne

“My goal was to get the twins, my two boys, an antler and they both succeeded in that,” Romrell said. “I just wanted to put a smile on their faces and make them enjoy the outdoors as much as I do.”

He’s been shed hunting in Jackson for about 10 years.

“We enjoy looking at them, we enjoy using them in home decor,” Romrell said. “They’re special to us because it’s a western living style.”

Brady Rivenes, the 24-year-old from Gillette, said he has mixed feelings about the new law.

“Yeah I kind of go both ways,” he said. “It’s cool getting to see all the Wyoming guys get their first pick on horns but also kind of bittersweet because you don’t get to see all of your out of state buddies you’ve made from coming to this over the years.”

Back on the mountain, Rivenes ran up a rocky cliff to a ridge line that plateaus. The chaos he had prepped for earlier had come to fruition. He occasionally tripped on the uneven game trails as he scanned the hillside for antler points. The sunrise cast a pink glow above the Tetons and glistened off the thin snow crust.

“They’re hard to see in snow,” Rivenes said as he tried to catch his breath.

Moving fast, with no plans of stopping, he knew other hunters were right behind him. He was looking for pockets, or clusters of many antlers he had had luck finding in previous years.

“Some years you find it, some years you don’t,” Rivenes said, “but either way, we’re not stopping.

Then, his pace quickened and he yelled as he spotted one — then two. He scrambled to their side, threw off his pack, strapped them in and, with no time to celebrate, kept moving.

He was unsatisfied.

“Not good enough,” he said. “From where we went through and to only have two — it’s surprising.”

By the end of the day he’ll have added two more. His friends, who had all spread out, found another four.

Ultimately, it was “not too shabby,” Rivenes said.

Dante Filpula Ankne

He’s had better years, but ultimately it’s not just the thrill, the sheds or the scenery that keeps him coming back.

“A lot of it’s the people,” he said. “We like to shed hunt, there’s sheds on this hill, everyone else gets to come together that likes to shed hunt and you get to see all those guys pick up horns, it’s just a good time in general.”

Rivenes returned to his truck and threw down his sheds, considered their size alongside the others and debriefed the day cordially with other returning hunters. The competition was over.

He drove the gravel road out until he met the paved streets in town, grabbed a quick lunch at a local restaurant and then hit the road back towards Gillette — all before noon.

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